Actun Tunichil Muknal– ATM – My Belize Jungle Caving Adventure!

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave Tour

My journey starts with an early morning flight from San Pedro to Belize City. In the city, I was greeted by our guide for the first leg of the journey, who takes us for a light breakfast, some chit chat about what we would be doing, and then our adventure commences.

This was my very first time on this adventure. To be honest, I didn’t even know where the cave was located before now. There certainly had been much hype given to this adventure, so much so, that it was on my “Things I HAVE to Do in Belize” list.

The ATM cave is located 7 miles off the Western Highway, in the village of Teakettle. The scenery from Belize City to the village, is quite striking. The terrain changes as you make your way along the winding highway; from flat lands, to valleys and then to mountains of rich vegetation. Along the way, you can even get a glimpse of the thousands of years old – Sleeping Giant.

On the way to ATM Cave

In Tea Kettle, this is your change to stock up on Red Bull – okay, well maybe that’s just me. However, anticipating the adventure, I thought it would be necessary. Now, here is a little known, interesting fact about Tea Kettle and ME. This is where I spent the first ten years of my childhood life. As the van made its way through the rocky Cinderella road, heading towards our destination, memories of my distant past flooded my mind. I could not help but smile, as visions of me running around in the front yard with my siblings and childhood friends flashed in my mind.

The village itself provides much history and was part of a thriving Mayan Civilization. These stories and more are shared by our knowledgeable guide, Brainard. The road is rocky, however the air conditioning inside the van, made it bearable. After about 7 miles and 45 minutes we arrived at our disembark point.

Bathroom at ATM Cave

This is your last chance to use the bathroom. After this, it is all adventure for the next 4 hours. All items that you don’t want getting wet, is left inside the van. The trek up to the cave entrance is an exercise. In essence, you’re speed walking for about 30 to 50 minutes – depending on fitness level of adventurer. Not to brag but it took us about 40 minutes.

The ATM Cave tells the wretched tale of a civilization, plagued with drought, and other unfavorable conditions – becoming more and more desperate in their attempts to appease the Gods – and bring forth rain and good conditions for farming. Seen as a gateway to the underworld, the caves instilled fear in the souls of the community members. For eons of years, entering these caves was strictly prohibited. Not only was it prohibited, but also the residents feared curses upon the family lines of anyone who would dare to enter.

As you enter the cave, the story of the ancient civilization comes to life, in the remains, that is so perfectly preserved. Oh, did I mention, you get wet? Wait – you not only get wet – but the water is so cold.

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

There’s the cut-throat entrance to the cave. Seriously – you feel like your throat is going to get cut off, as you squeeze and man-oeuvre your way into the cave, with water up to your neck. To some, it might even feel safer to just climb over the mounds to get in – but not for us. This was adventurous.

In the first section of the cave, there is evidence of times when things were good. The locals would come to the entrance and just throw their offerings to the Gods. There was no need to even enter.

As you traverse deeper though, this is where it gets interesting. There are the tell-tale signs of the first human sacrifice. At this point, the sacrifices were offered by willing Martyrs. They saw it as an honor to be offer to the gods. We also see the noble ones venturing deeper into the caves in an attempt to better connect with the Gods.

ATM Cave

Even deeper into the cave, there is evidence of the sacrifices being of more prominent members of society. This is where you see some resistance. These noble men are not giving themselves willingly. We see evidence of them being bounded, feet and hands tied as they are dragged even deeper into the caves to be sacrificed. There is even a shallow graveyard; it seemed, with what appears to be bones from children. The leaders had become truly desperate, in their attempt to appease the Gods.

To the very end of the cave – there is the famed “Crystal Maiden”, which according to our knowledgeable guide, is actual a “Crystal Maiden Boy” so NOT a maiden.

Crystal Maiden in ATM Cave

Skull-in-ATM-Cave

There aren’t words in the world that can truly explain the experience of being inside the ATM Cave. The sheer knowledge of walking the route taken is Mayan Queens / Nobility, being in the midst of the Many Sacrificial Offerings that were held, beholding human remains that are thousands of years old, pottery and other items that are as ancient as the bones – is a truly un-matched experience.

Pottery-in-ATM-Cave

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

And if the history alone isn’t enough to blow your mind, the monumental stalactites and stalagmites formations, the crystal laden walls, the seemingly magical formations of mythical creatures, and the sheer monstrosity of the great room – will certainly blow your mind away.

ATM Cave Tour

As I made my way back to San Pedro, in the van ride and then later the plane; re-runs of my experience empowered all my thoughts.  I wanted everyone that I knew, to experience what I just experienced.

Would I do it again? Heck yeah!!!

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